The Cavaliers got Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov, but they still need a few years to gel as a collective group
By Miles Wray (@mileswray)
Way back this summer, when LeBron James was unemployed for that handful of manic weeks, I proposed — with a straight face — that he sign with the Philadelphia 76ers. While that might not be a good fit for the purposes of LeBron’s #brand, for basketball reasons I meant it then and I meant it now. I penned the following:
A season or two at 30-40 wins would be a small price to see LeBron at the helm of the league’s youngest and fastest team. With his imaginative and forward-thinking trades — see Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a lottery pick — Hinkie is a prolific dealmaker who would find the right complimentary players if his rebuilding process got accelerated with the addition of LeBron. Being at the forefront of the analytics movement sounds a lot more appealing than being surrounding by as many 15-year vets as possible.
LeBron in Philadelphia would have been a fit for even more reasons: the Sixers have put a clear emphasis on nutrition and fitness as an organization, erring on the conservative side of player safety and health even when it irks the average fan (see Philly’s patience with Noel and Joel Embiid). Currently the Sixers are playing only two players over 30 minutes a game: Michael Carter-Williams at 34.3 and Noel at 30.2. James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are all over 35 MPG in Cleveland. All of these factors would no doubt enrich and elongate LeBron’s playing career.
I know that LeBron did not for two seconds consider signing in Philadelphia. He didn’t consider it because the expectation with LeBron — whether he’s yoked himself with that expectation, or whether we as a rather unforgiving audience have yoked it upon him — is that he compete for a championship every. single. year. Each season that James has come up short — that would be nine times (and about to be ten!) — is a cue for blisteringly hot takes about his supposed lack of greatness. And even the two seasons that have ended with a victorious LeBron were immediately followed by unflattering ring count comparisons.
I understand the impulse. LeBron is the rare player we know we will yak to our grandkids about seeing play, and we don’t want to see a single year of his incredibly valuable prime go to waste. But, shoot, sometimes you just need to take some time to build a team. The best players that were already in Cleveland were all incredibly young and had no postseason experience between them. If the Cavaliers and LeBron himself just acknowledged that this team had a long way to go to be a championship-caliber contender, the Cavs would be acquiring draft picks instead of sending them away, James would be getting a lot more rest, and his age-36 and age-37 seasons would just look a whole lot better in general.
Even Jordan needed four years with Pippen before he got to the promised land.